Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Running Time: 137 mins
Manchester By The Sea is an American film about a troubled man who returns to his hometown upon learning of his brother’s death, where he is asked to become his nephew’s legal guardian.
Undoubtedly heart wrenching and desperately sad, Manchester By The Sea is something more than just a tearjerker. Its unrelentingly tragic story makes for a heavy-going watch over the course of over two hours, but its incredible screenplay, as well as amazing direction and some perfect performances, make it an unbelievably captivating watch, keeping you glued to the screen at every single moment.
The place that we have to start off with is definitely the screenplay, one of this film’s crowning achievements. What’s most astonishing about it is how incredibly realistic the dialogue is from start to finish. You may think that all of this tragedy heaped on one guy and his family sounds a over-the-top, but the dialogue is vital in bringing everything painfully down to earth, and making it all seem very real.
The conversations that the characters have aren’t principally there to tell you the story and what’s going on, because there are far more direct ways to tell this sort of story. However, the slow and regularly interrupted conversations feel like you’re watching real people talk and deal with a difficult situation, which is always so fascinating and impressive to see on screen.
Another key to the film is its performances. Casey Affleck’s lead performance is simply amazing, as he expertly conveys his character’s frustration and sadness in the most human way possible. Just from looking at him as the film begins, it’s easy to tell that he’s desperately troubled, and Affleck’s performance for the entire film strongly backs that up. However, he also shows us how this man, despite being a little difficult to deal with, is trying his best to figure out what’s going on, and that human quality shines through in some particularly powerful moments that make his character utterly fascinating to follow.
Alongside Affleck is Lucas Hedges, playing the nephew. It’s an excellent performance that consistently manages to show a different side to a character’s grief. Whilst Affleck’s character is an emotional recluse, Hedges shows his character’s way of dealing with his father’s death through a livelier and angrier performance. His quarelling with Affleck throughout is one of the film’s most important stories, as it shows the differences between two people coping with a loved one’s death, and how those different attitudes can cause tensions and frustration.
Kenneth Lonergan’s direction and writing here is also stunning. Because it’s so riveting, I didn’t find the film at all slow, but its incredibly quiet and understated atmosphere is what makes it so real and so impressively powerful. What’s more is that Lonergan’s screenplay allows the story to unfold in an incredibly natural way, occasionally jumping back to the past to give context for the characters’ actions in the present, but never with any sort of voiceover or fancy transition, looking at the past just as a memory being played out in your own head.
But in the end, Manchester By The Sea is a truly powerful real-life drama. The greater message of the film is that everybody goes through difficult times, some incredibly sad and tragic, but you always deal with it in some way or other. None of the film’s characters are morally perfect, and none of them ever know what’s going on one hundred percent of the time, but there’s nothing more realistic and powerful to witness than that. With its incredible writing, directing and acting at every moment, it’s a truly gripping watch, and features one of the most astonishingly sad yet totally believable stories you’ll ever see, which is why I’m giving Manchester By The Sea a 9.1.